This past Friday, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery released his latest album, Like Minds, through Smoke Sessions Records. The nine-song record, which clocks in at just under an hour (57 minutes to be precise) is just the latest in his already extensive catalog and comes on the heels of his then latest album, 2019’s The Humble Warrior – which was also released through Smoke Sessions Records. Composed of a mix of originals and covers, this new record is another welcome offering from Escoffery that will find listeners of their own like mind, agreeing that it is well worth hearing. Among the most notable of the originals featured in this record is the album’s opener and title track. It will be discussed shortly. One of the most notable of the covers is that of The Melodians’ ‘Rivers of Babylon.’ This song will be examined a little later. Another of the notable originals featured here is the album’s finale, ‘Shuffle.’ It will also be examined later. All three songs noted here are key in their own way to the whole of Escoffery’s new album. When they are considered alongside the rest of the album’s body, the whole makes Like Minds a welcome new offering from the veteran saxophonist and an equally welcome addition to this year’s field of new jazz albums.
Like Minds, the latest album from Wayne Escoffery, is a positive new addition to his already extensive catalog and to this year’s already crowded field of new jazz albums. New listeners and his established audiences will be of their own like mind that this album is an engaging and entertaining offering. Its originals and covers alike make that clear. Among the most notable of its featured original compositions is its opener/title track. The six-minute composition is led by Escoffery’s work on the sax while drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr. keeps a steady beat on the hi-hat amidst his frenetic performance. Their work, together with that of guitarist Mike Moreno and keyboardist David Kikoski, gives the song an interesting identity. Listeners can identify elements of bop through Escorffery’s performance, while the keyboards, drums, bass, and guitar give the song more of a modern fusion sound and style. Both separately and collectively, those leanings make the whole fully immersive, and in turn engaging and entertaining in its own right.
According to the liner notes that accompany the record – which were composed by Chris Pearson – this song was composed specifically with Whitfield in mind. Pearson notes in his writing, Whitfield replaced Escoffery’s former drummer, Ralph Peterson, “who died from cancer in 2021, aged 58.” Pearson notes that Whitfield’s constantly evolving and changing performance throughout the song really is the center of the arrangement. While it does seem that Escoffery leads the way, Whitfield’s performance really does take its own central role here as the song progresses. His performance pairs so well with each of his fellow musicians to make the whole so enjoyable.
Among the most notable of the album’s covers is that of The Melodians’ ‘Rivers of Babylon.’ Serving as part of the album’s midpoint, the song gives the original 1970 composition from the trio a whole new identity separate from its source material. Where the original composition is a relatively straight forward reggae tune, the updated take from Escoffery and company (including guest vocalist Gregory Porter) gives the song more of a hybrid smooth jazz/R&B sound and stylistic approach. Porter’s vocals are as rich as velvety as ever in his performance here while Escoffery’s subdued performance gives the song such a rich nuance in its own right. Much the same can be said of Kikoski’s work on the piano here. The duo’s pairing with Whitfield’s steady time keeping gives the song a whole new soul that along with Porter’s vocals, makes the song in whole such a unique presentation. It is certain to stand out among the record’s entries, showing even more what makes Like Minds so worth hearing.
According to Pearson’s liner notes, the original song is meant to use the biblical story of the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt as a call for action among African Americans during the civil rights era. The intentional change in approach taken by Escoffery and company in this rendition of ‘Rivers of Babylon’ is outlined in depth by Pearson in the liner notes, adding to the appreciation for the performance.
One more original worth noting in Escoffery’s new album is its finale, ‘Shuffle’ According to Pearson’s liner notes, this song was composed during the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to Peterson’s passing from cancer. He points out the song’s genesis happened when Escoffery asked Peterson to play a “shuffle-type groove.” The backbeat that Pearson notes from Whitfield’s performance is evident throughout to those who listen closely to the album. It, along with the steady time keeping gives the song such a funky approach even though the song really is not a shuffle (which Pearson also points out in his notes). Kikoski adds to that funky vibe through his own semi-percussive approach on the keys. Moreno an Escoffery add their own unique touch to the composition, with the entirety of the group’s performance generating so much enjoyment throughout its six-minute-plus run time. All things considered, this song is not only another enjoyable original addition to Escoffery’s new album but an equally enjoyable final entry for the album. When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes Like Minds overall a complete success from Escoffery.
Like Minds, the latest studio recording from Wayne Escoffery, is an enjoyable new offering from the veteran saxophonist. That is proven in its original compositions and its unique covers. The songs examined here make that clear. When they are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes Like Minds a presentation that will leave all audiences of the like mind that it is another welcome addition to this year’s field of new jazz albums.
Like Minds is available now through Smoke Sessions Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Wayne Escoffery’s latest news at: